"The Most Glorious War Recorded in the British Annals”: Portugal in British Figurations of the Peninsular War
Manuela Mourão, Old Dominion University
“THE MOST GLORIOUS WAR RECORDED IN THE BRITISH ANNALS,” AS ROBERT Southey described it in the dedication of his History of the Peninsular War, the conflict that brought together Portugal, Spain, and Britain against Napoleon’s armies between 1807 and 1814 was a dominant preoccupation of the British public in general, and of the first generation of Romantics in particular. Many critics have shown the extent to which the Iberian uprising against the tyranny of Napoleon galvanized the British people, united the British nation, and afforded Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge a renewed opportunity to sympathize with the cause of freedom after their disenchantment with the course of the French Revolution. As well, many studies have demonstrated how the conflict and its discursive representations aided in shaping Britain’s identity by fomenting its image as an enlightened nation that championed freedom: Linda Colley, for example, has explored the connections between military conflict with the French and the formation of British national identity; Kathryn Chittick has highlighted the role of the periodical press in establishing an atmosphere that led to the country’s re-examination of its national identity vis à vis its position on liberty; Joselyn M. Almeida, Deirdre Coleman, Gavin Daly, Mary A. Favret, and Diego Saglia have discussed the impact of literary representations, and shown how imaginative literature and non-fictional personal accounts both shaped and reflected contemporary perceptions of Iberia by Britons. Saglia in particular has explored in great depth the ideological configurations of the representations of Spain in British Romantic texts. In turn, and corroborating a point also made by Favret’s earlier work, Daly has examined the personal accounts of British soldiers’ experiences in Spain and Portugal in letters, memoirs, and diaries to demonstrate how this wealth of written records inevitably shaped the British reading public’s perception of the events and of the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula.